I struggle with this time of year. Although I like the idea of Bonfire night, Halloween and Christmas, I can’t say I’m jumping around with glee. Summer is over and I love the summer.
I suspect I was born in the wrong country. I hate being cold and, even though I have lots of lovely coats and boots to kick off the new season, a part of me is devestated that the days of flip flops and sun cream are gone…..of course it doesn’t help that I have just returned from a holiday where we experienced 29 degrees most days. Absolute heaven for me.
But here we are in October and “the nights are drawing in”, as Andy is fond of saying. Its time to put the heating back on and cuddle up with a cup of hot chocolate…and in my case to feel pretty down.
I tend to feel stronger and more able to cope with life in the summer. My anxiety diminishes to its lowest point of the year and everything feels more relaxed. There is less traffic on the roads and people generally seem more amenable and happy. September always feels like the time to stop enjoying oneself and return to reality, which releases new anxiety for me and a sense of wondering whether I can cope with what is around the corner.
As a counsellor I am aware that I am not alone. “Autumn Anxiety” also known as “September Anxiety”, is very real and can be traumatic. The coming of Autumn can have a host of different meanings: For example it can mean returning to school or university and the stress that can bring. It can mean separation. It can certainly mean new challenges. There are also proven scientific reasons as to why mood may drop in this period. The change in the amount of light we are exposed to can cause SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) This causes low mood and sometimes depression. SAD is thought to affect about one in 15 people in the UK between the months of September and April, according to the NHS, so please do not feel alone!
If you are feeling very depressed and are considering harming yourself, you MUST go and visit your GP who will be able to advise you. For me, having experienced this at the end of too many summers to count, it’s time to shake myself, count my blessings and switch my thinking. Instead of feeling sad that summer has gone, to consider the possibilities and opportunities autumn and winter can bring:
1. Bonfire night and Halloween are coming up and they can be fun social evenings if you allow them to be. Organise a few friends to come round, play some silly games and dress up if you like, but make it an occasion, something to plan and look forward to.
2. Adjust your own body clock: Get up earlier and go to bed earlier to make the most the light.
3. Plan some day trips away (or weekends if you are able to afford it.) There are often cheap rail deals available in the run up to Christmas and there are so many fantastic places to visit in the UK. Investing in a English Heritage or National Trust membership for example, opens up a whole new dimension of places to visit.
4. As the days get shorter I get a bit tired and lethargic. Exercise is an amazing antidote to this, and even though it’s tough pulling on your trainers in the dark, an hour or so later you will be feeling full of beans I promise!
5. Even though it’s dark, it shouldn’t stop you going out. I am planing at least two trips to the cinema in the next couple of weeks. I am also off to see Dara O’ Briain at the local theatre in November. Having these things to look forward to helps to lift mood.
6. Try something new. At this time of year a lot of adult education courses are just starting. Fancy learning upholstery or a spot of pottery? I bet it’s been a while since you looked at what was on offer at your local college. Have a peek and see if anything takes your fancy.
7. Plan your week ahead and include some treats. See friends that you haven’t had time to in the summer months. Organise a get together, a girls (or boys) night, a pizza and prosecco evening, whatever takes your fancy!
8. Consider volunteering. The homeless charities face looking at a massive increase on their resources at this time of year and your volunteering a few hours a week can make all the difference to someone’s life. It is also an amazing leveller, working with people who are that much worse off than yourself.
9. East well. Invest in a crock pot/ slow cooker. I bought one last year and it’s heavenly coming in after a long day to the smell of an amazing stew/curry that has been slowly bubbling away all day.
10. Get outside as much as possible, particularly on bright days. Go for walks in the woods, on the beach, at the park. Plan a pub lunch at the end of it if you can afford it, or a hot chocolate from a coffee shop. I love some of these autumn specials that the coffee shops come up with!
11. Practice Mindfulness to try and alleviate feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and low mood. Concentrating on a specific something for a few minutes a day is remarkably beneficial. I tried it this morning when eating an apple and my heart rate and breathing noticeably slowed.
12. Consider that autumn/winter is part of the natural cycle and your mood will ultimately lift again and that this is not a permanent state. Summer will return but until then, take some cheer from the words of the poet Edith Sitwell
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”